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Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

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Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

Post by skwalker1964 on Thu Oct 11, 2012 10:28 am

I've just been reading some interesting comments in the 'West Coast Main Line Fiasco' thread, where claims were made that party politics is over and the public will never trust politicians any more. I wrote a post a little while ago that I think bears on this, because I think the maker of that comment was partly right. The majority of people won't trust politicians who simply present as slightly nicer or meaner variants of the same theme, that theme being that there is no viable alternative to operating as best we can within the current 'global capital' system. I believe there are alternatives - and that if a political party wants to grab the public imagination and trust again, it needs to start presenting an alternative and inspiring some vision and hope in people of a better possible future than just 'more of the same but hopefully bearable'. I also believe that the only party with both the possibility of doing this, and the political mass and momentum to actually get elected and do it, is Labour, along with its associate parties like the Co-operatives.

Anyway, here's the post. If you want to view the full thing including links to sources, then as usual please visit the original post, which you'll find at: http://skwalker1964.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/root-branch-balls-mistake-in-letting-the-tories-choose-the-battleground/

History is replete with examples, from Alexander through Julius Caesar to Agincourt and beyond, of battles won by smaller armies over larger ones. The general consensus of military historians is that the decisive factor in such instances is that the master stroke of the general commanding the smaller army was in choosing the battleground to suit his strengths – or, depending on which way you look at it, the catastrophic error of the larger army’s commander in allowing him to.

Last Thursday’s Guardian carried an article on the ‘root and branch’ review of spending being promised by Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. Probably motivated jointly by a desire to seem serious, sober and convincing to the electorate about the economy and a desire to ‘placate the markets’ and win favour from them for the future.

Understandable, I guess. And completely the wrong tactic.

By trying to match the Tories in readiness to ‘get tough’, ‘make difficult decisions’, ‘think the unthinkable’, or however you want to phrase it, Ed is making two fundamental errors. First he’s letting the Tories choose the battleground; second, he’s granting the premise of their argument and actions: that there is overspending and that there is a ‘structural deficit’ that needs to be corrected in the first place.

The Tory battleground

By choosing to try to meet the Tories and neutralise them on the spending issue, the best that Labour can hope for is to be considered as ‘Tory lite’. While this might win some brownie points with the very narrow sector of our society that consists of ‘business leaders’ (the kind of people represented by the CBI), and with some elements of the right-wing press. Oh, and ‘the markets’ – but we’ll come to them presently.

This can’t be a winning strategy because:

- Business leaders do hold a key to economic recovery and electoral strength, but it’s not one that will be reached by ‘reassuring’ them that a Labour government will be just as tough on spending as the current excuse for a government. The key to economic recovery is demand – and business leaders can only contribute to demand by paying a living wage and being courageous in employing people. But they’ll only do that if they see that they have a government that will a) demand it of them and b) lead the way by well-targeted spending to increase demand so that they can be confident in investing, employing and spending themselves.

- The right-wing press is never going to give whole-hearted backing to the Labour party and will only use the implicit admission of previous recklessness as a weapon to attack Labour in public opinion. These newspapers are owned by people who are committed to the right-wing’s small-state, low-tax ideology and any improvements in the deficit or the economy are always going to be secondary to those ultimate aims.

- The British people – and this is the big one – are massively disillusioned with a politics that seems to present them only with two sides of the same neoliberal coin. The Labour party that can win an outright majority at the next election will not be one that simply offers a slightly ‘nicer’ version of the Tories, with much the same spending cuts and mindset.

For Labour to motivate people who vote to swing strongly toward them, and to motivate those who didn’t vote in the last election to get out and vote Labour at the next one, will be a Labour party that offers a genuinely different way of seeing the world – of perceiving the UK and international economy and the solutions to economic problems. More on this in the next section.

- Placating the markets is a complete waste of time. Firstly because the opinion of the markets changes more often than the direction of the wind – the markets are as unstable as a nervous sheep, and keeping them onside is a vain and pointless hope. The real measures necessary to create a stable economy capable of steady and solid growth will involve a divorce of national economies from the instability of markets, and turning that into reality will be a battle that the markets will resist no matter what, so there’s no point in courting their favour now.

The premise

The Tories failed to get themselves elected in the last general election. But what success they did have came largely from them accusing Labour of presiding over an economic mess – and no opportunity to repeat the ‘inherited mess’ mantra has been missed ever since.

But the inherited mess is a myth. By volunteering that Labour will conduct this ‘root and branch’ spending review, Balls is granting credibility to the myth instead of exposing it as the lie it is. First, Labour managed the deficit well until the events of 2007/8 forced the desperate measures of bank bailouts etc – measures which David Cameron supported. Secondly, the kind of measures which the Tories are trying to impose will ensure that any ‘recovery’ only benefits themselves and their backers – and in fact will prevent any real recovery while ensuring that they and their backers still continue to get richer.

The government and its media pals are trying hard to keep this realisation from percolating through to the public consciousness. But people still sense in their gut that this is what’s happening – and so they’re heart-sick of the posturing and hypocrisy they see in the government’s words and actions (the booing of George Osborne by 80,000 people at the Paralympics was a demonstration of this.

If Labour wants to win the battle for the hearts, minds and votes of the British people, they will not succeed in doing so by posing as ‘Tory lite’ and saying that they’ll cut just like the Tories only a bit smarter.

Winning people’s hearts, minds and votes requires presenting a vision – one that gives a truer, better explanation of the current situation as well as a better, clearer, more inspiring and much more radical solution. By effectively agreeing with the Tory narrative and then trying to fight them on the battleground they’ve chosen, Ed Balls has made a serious strategic and tactical mistake.

Serious, but not fatal. There’s still time to recast the setting and reframe the argument onto terms that not only better suit Labour’s intrinsic strengths, but are also a truer reflection of reality and more appealing to the hearts and minds of austerity-sickened voters. In short, to withdraw from a no-win battleground and engage with people and the opposition on the right terrain.

I hope Ed and Ed will see this and act in time!
http://skwalker1964.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/root-branch-balls-mistake-in-letting-the-tories-choose-the-battleground/
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Re: Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

Post by oftenwrong on Thu Oct 11, 2012 12:07 pm

" There’s still time to recast the setting and reframe the argument onto terms that not only better suit Labour’s intrinsic strengths, but are also a truer reflection of reality and more appealing to the hearts and minds of austerity-sickened voters. In short, to withdraw from a no-win battleground and engage with people and the opposition on the right terrain."

The right terrain being somewhere you can't get to from here, so what's the right answer now that we are no longer in 2008?
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Re: Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

Post by skwalker1964 on Thu Oct 11, 2012 1:19 pm

oftenwrong wrote:" There’s still time to recast the setting and reframe the argument onto terms that not only better suit Labour’s intrinsic strengths, but are also a truer reflection of reality and more appealing to the hearts and minds of austerity-sickened voters. In short, to withdraw from a no-win battleground and engage with people and the opposition on the right terrain."

The right terrain being somewhere you can't get to from here, so what's the right answer now that we are no longer in 2008?

I'm afraid you'll have to clarify the question if you want me to respond!
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Re: Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

Post by blueturando on Thu Oct 11, 2012 3:28 pm

By volunteering that Labour will conduct this ‘root and branch’ spending review, Balls is granting credibility to the myth instead of exposing it as the lie it is. First, Labour managed the deficit well until the events of 2007/8 forced the desperate measures of bank bailouts etc – measures which David Cameron supported.

SKWALKER.......Of course Labour managed the deficit better in 07/08 as this was before they had to bail out the banks. What they should have done during the 'boom' years is actually clear the deficit and put some money away for a rainy day. Labours' declaring of an end to an era of boom and bust was a false one, because it is clear to everyone that Governments cannot control this, but only react to it.

2012 is very different to 2007/2008, so how is Labour going to manage the current deficit and the current global situation?
The argument Balls put forward is probably the only argument he could realistically make....what else could he say?! Whether we like it or not, the worlds' finance is controlled by the markets and if UK borrowing continues to rise and rise we will definitely be in the same situation as Spain and nations with similar financial problems......Ed Balls knows this, Cameron know this and more importantly a majority of the general public knows this too.

In reality Labour are backed into a corner as their stock promises and policies always involve large amounts of public spending. If they come back to power in 2015 this is something they will be unable to undertake, so it will be unfamiliar ground for Labour and I don't believe they have to policies or ideas to deal effectively with the current situation. I am not saying the coalition does either as we can all see they're doing a pretty amateur job of tackling to core issues that need to be addressed (I will expand on this if you want me too).

The Labour party has a serious problem it needs to overcome and I have noticed this problem from posting on this forum for some time now. If Labours’ core supporters are anything like the majority of the posters on here, then they have an unhealthy obsession with the Tories. Criticising the Tories over and over is one thing, but that only washes when that person can come up with alternatives or it just seems like criticism for criticisms sake, or tribalism. I don’t think anyone, even the posters here actually knows what the current Labour party stands for…and that could be your biggest problem in the next GE.

Contrary to popular belief most of the general public are not fools and when Milliband stands there and tells lies about Cameron writing a 40k cheque for himself and then looking like and complete fool on live Tv when pulled up on this and fudging the question on his own financial worth, it just smacks of the old New Labour spin machine that the public so hated and in the end was part of their down fall.

I and probably most of the general public would have so much more respect for Milliband if he could actual just tell it like it is…no spin, no BS, no attempting to create a false class war, which will alienate all middle class earners and the very people Labour want to attract back to the party…....Give the party a direction and stick with it. The thing with the Tories is that love or hate them, you know what they stand for and you also know that at some time they are probably going to stab you in the heart…but at least you can see that coming. With Labour you’re forever looking over your shoulder waiting for the stab in the back that will inevitable come, because you don’t know what they stand for and what the spin machine is trying force down your throat.

Ultimately UK Governments are becomming secondary and their powers over policy weaker and weaker. The real powerhouses are the Money markets and the EU. Until there is a fundamental change to this 'globally' we are at the mercy and whims of both

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Re: Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

Post by oftenwrong on Thu Oct 11, 2012 5:19 pm

[quote="skwalker1964"]
oftenwrong wrote:" There’s still time to recast the setting and reframe the argument onto terms that not only better suit Labour’s intrinsic strengths, but are also a truer reflection of reality and more appealing to the hearts and minds of austerity-sickened voters. In short, to withdraw from a no-win battleground and engage with people and the opposition on the right terrain."

The right terrain being somewhere you can't get to from here, so what's the right answer now that we are no longer in 2008?

Sorry. You identify the problem, but voters hold the Gordon Brown government partly responsible for the situation now. That's not very fair, but it's true.

Do you have a strategy for overcoming that perception? It's the fly in the ointment of a prospective future Labour Government.

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Re: Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

Post by skwalker1964 on Thu Oct 11, 2012 7:59 pm

Blue and OW, I have proposed some options on my blog - though there may well be better solutions. Might I suggest starting with these?

http://skwalker1964.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/a-radical-socialist-idea-abolish-corporation-tax-46/

http://skwalker1964.wordpress.com/2012/07/27/the-radical-imperative-who-dares-wins/

http://skwalker1964.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/bevans-legacy-risk-reward-and-the-good-fight/

http://skwalker1964.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/boardroom-insanity-corporate-lemmings-political-collusion-is-there-really-no-better-way/

Blue - trying to build economies on the markets is like trying to build a house of cards on the back of a particularly nervous sheep. You either reconcile yourself to continual failure and collapse or else you decide to do something different.

We need a government with the political will to grasp the nettle (excuse the mixed metaphors!) and actually dare to depart from the status quo instead of trying to polish the turd (sorry, couldn't resist!) - backed by an electorate who has been persuaded and envisioned enough to grit its teeth through the initial painful period. It won't be easy, but it's better than despair and surrender - and I'm convinced it can be done.
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Re: Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

Post by blueturando on Thu Oct 11, 2012 9:38 pm

We need a government with the political will to grasp the nettle (excuse the mixed metaphors!) and actually dare to depart from the status quo instead of trying to polish the turd (sorry, couldn't resist!) - backed by an electorate who has been persuaded and envisioned enough to grit its teeth through the initial painful period. It won't be easy, but it's better than despair and surrender - and I'm convinced it can be done..

Thank you for your blog links and I will take time to read them. On your statement above..... it may surprise you, but in many ways I agree with you. There are fundamental issues with Capitalism the way it is in the 21st century, but one nation and one government cannot change this or make a difference. If Labour or any other party disgarded the markets and capitalism right now, we would be abandoned by the rest of the developed world in a heart beat. It would take all the G20 nations to work together to change the way the whole world works and sees things
The speak I hear from some posters on here and people I know who are way off to the left reminds me of the' right on' uni students I used hang around with back in the early 80's....Viva la revolution and all that, but ultimately reality kicks in and 99% join the status quo. Labour cannot drive dramatically to the left as it will be political suicide, but they must find a way to appeal more to the elecorate. Someone like me who is a working class lad who comes from a sink council estate 'should' be voting for Labour no questions asked, but the party and it's ideologies just don't appeal to me

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Re: Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

Post by skwalker1964 on Thu Oct 11, 2012 10:28 pm

blueturando wrote:
We need a government with the political will to grasp the nettle (excuse the mixed metaphors!) and actually dare to depart from the status quo instead of trying to polish the turd (sorry, couldn't resist!) - backed by an electorate who has been persuaded and envisioned enough to grit its teeth through the initial painful period. It won't be easy, but it's better than despair and surrender - and I'm convinced it can be done..

Thank you for your blog links and I will take time to read them. On your statement above..... it may surprise you, but in many ways I agree with you. There are fundamental issues with Capitalism the way it is in the 21st century, but one nation and one government cannot change this or make a difference. If Labour or any other party disgarded the markets and capitalism right now, we would be abandoned by the rest of the developed world in a heart beat. It would take all the G20 nations to work together to change the way the whole world works and sees things
The speak I hear from some posters on here and people I know who are way off to the left reminds me of the' right on' uni students I used hang around with back in the early 80's....Viva la revolution and all that, but ultimately reality kicks in and 99% join the status quo. Labour cannot drive dramatically to the left as it will be political suicide, but they must find a way to appeal more to the elecorate. Someone like me who is a working class lad who comes from a sink council estate 'should' be voting for Labour no questions asked, but the party and it's ideologies just don't appeal to me

If there was any chance at all of a multilateral agreement on the 'breakaway', you might have a point. But it'll never happen. It's a question of individual nations braving the risks and the backlash and setting an example that the electorate in other countries might be tempted to follow.

Of course there'll be consequences, and a fight on our hands. Look at how Cuba and Venezuela are being demonised now, and the 'special measures' applied to bring Chile, Bolivia, Argentina etc to heel - and even poor little Trinidad & Tobago. But it's fight or get shafted anyway. And the 'coalition of greed' is by definition weak. We're a market of 60+ million people, and some will break ranks to profit from the opportunity on our terms, and then there'd be a flood.

I sketch out how I envision some of this in one of the posts I linked to - the Bevan one. Perhaps I should post it in this forum?
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Re: Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

Post by skwalker1964 on Thu Oct 11, 2012 10:53 pm

skwalker1964 wrote:I sketch out how I envision some of this in one of the posts I linked to - the Bevan one. Perhaps I should post it in this forum?

Just posted now in UK Economics under the title: 'This means war? Bevan's legacy: risk, reward, retaliation & resolution'.
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Re: Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

Post by oftenwrong on Fri Oct 12, 2012 12:20 pm

I hope you made clear the difference between Labour Ministers Aneurin Bevin and Ernest Bevan. (Or have I got that the wrong way round?)
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Re: Root & Branch? Ed Balls' mistake in letting the Tories choose the battleground

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